1902 Encyclopedia > Slavery > Slave Trade in the United States.

(Part 19)


Slave Trade in the United States.

Three of the most important slave systems still remained in which no steps towards emancipation had been taken—those of the Southern United States, of Cuba, and of Brazil.

Slavery was far from being approved in principle by the most eminent of the fathers of the American Union. S Washington in his will provided for the emancipation of his own slaves; he said to Jefferson that it was "among his first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in his country might be abolished by law," and again he wrote that to this subject his own suffrage should never be wanting. John Adams declared his abhorrence of the practice of slaveholding, and said that "every measure of prudence ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States." Franklin’s opinions we have already indicated; and Madison, Hamilton, and Patrick Henry all reprobated the principle of the system. Jefferson declared that in the presence of the institution "he trembled for his country when he remembered that God was just." The last-named statesman, at the first continental congress after the evacuation by the British forces, proposed a draft ordinance (1st March 1784) for the government of the territory—including the present Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi—ceded already or to be ceded by individual States to the United States; and it was an article of this ordinance that "after the year 1800 there should be neither slaverv nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States, otherwise than in punishment of crime." This proviso, however, was lost. At the convention of Philadelphia in 1787, where the constitution was settled, the sentiments of the framers were against slavery; but South Carolina and Georgia insisted on its recognition as a condition of their joining the Union, and even an engagement for the mutual rendition of fugitive slaves was embodied in the federal pact. The words "slave" and "slavery" were, however, excluded from the constitution, "because," as Madison says, "they did not choose to admit the right of property in man" in direct terms; and it was at the same time provided that Congress might interdict the foreign slave trade after the expiration of twenty years. It must not be forgotten that either before or soon after the formation of the Union the Northern States—beginning with Vermont in 1777, and ending with New Jersey in 1804—either abolished slavery or adopted measures to effect its gradual abolition within their boundaries. But the principal operation of (at least) the latter change was simply to transfer Northern slaves to Southern markets.

We cannot follow in detail the several steps by which the slave power for a long time persistently increased its influence in the Union. The acquisition of Louisiana—including the State so named, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas—(1803), though not made in its interest, the Missouri compromise (1820), the annexation of Texas (1845), the Fugitive Slave Law (1850), the Kansas-Nebraska bill (1854), the Dred Scott decision (1856), the attempts to acquire Cuba (1854) and to reopen the foreign slave trade (1859-60), were the principal steps—only some of them successful—in its career of aggression. They roused a determined spirit of opposition, founded on deep-seated convictions. The pioneer of the more recent abolitionist movement was Benjamin Lundy (1789-1839). He was followed by William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), Elijah P. Lovejoy (1802-1837)—a martyr, if ever there was one—Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, John Brown (b. 1800, hanged 1859), all of whom were in their several ways leading apostles or promoters of the cause. The best intellect of America outside the region of practical politics has been on the anti-slavery side. William E. Channing, R. W. Emerson, the poets Bryant, Longfellow, pre-eminently Whittier, and more recently Whitman, have spoken on this theme with no uncertain sound. The South, and its partisans in the North, made desperate efforts to prevent the free expression of opinion respecting the institution, and even the Christian churches in the slave States used their influence in favour of the maintenance of slavery. But in spite of every such effort opinion steadily grew. Public sentiment in the North was deeply stirred by the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852), which, as Senior said, under the disguise of a novel was really a pamphlet against the Fugitive Slave Law. It gradually became apparent that the question could not be settled without an armed conflict. The designation of Abraham Lincoln as president in November 1860 was the signal for the rising of the South. The North at first took arms simply to maintain the Union; but the far-sighted politicians from the first, and soon the whole nation, saw that the real issue was the continued existence or the total abolition of slavery. See UNITED STATES.

The war was closed by the surrender at Appomattox (9th April 1865), but already in 1862 slavery in the Territories had been abolished by Congress; on 22d of September of the same year Lincoln had issued his proclamation of freedom to the slaves; and in 1864 a constitutional amendment bad been passed abolishing and for ever prohibiting slavery throughout the United States.

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